The Music Industry; Shades Of Success

Published: Friday 8th Jan 2010 by Trent

Turn on your television set and this is what you’ll see: a variety of female Urban performers adorned in the latest fashions, tossing their hips and belting for their audiences. However, if you look pass the glitz and the glamour, you will notice that they almost all look the same – light-skinned, slim built women, wearing the an assortment of weaves and wigs. What you are in fact witnessing is the mold of the ideal woman in the music industry.

For decades, women of colour have been forced to adopt the styles and appearance of their Caucasian counterparts in an effort to achieve mainstream appeal. Acts such as Aretha Franklin and Ella Fitzgerald were adorned with wigs and blush in their early careers; arguably forced to adjust their looks to be more marketable to US mass media audiences. In fact, Diana Ross rose to a position of prominence, not just because of her talent and music, but also as a result of her light skin and Caucasian features.

That trend continues to this day, with artists such as Mariah Carey, Alicia Keys and Beyonce dominating the airwaves while their darker contemporaries are struggling to access the mainstream audience. Kelly Rowland, for instance, enjoys chart-topping success in countries such as UK, where skin tone is no longer regarded as a definitive factor  in artists’  success. Yet regardless of how well or not she’s been promoted, she’s yet to have an impact as a solo act in the US, a fact arguably attributable to her complexion.  Quite notably, few dark-skinned African-American performers have been able to ascend to the top of the charts, with Whitney Houston, Lauryn Hill and Mary J. Blige providing rare examples of such cases. This despite there being a wealth of talent among artists from all races, hues and complexions.

Interestingly, the colour paradigm is considered  a key attribute of Rihanna’s marketing campaign. Her light eyes, high cheek bones, fair skin and all-round more ‘exotic’ look have supposedly allowed her to capture her Covergirl campaign. Indeed, Beyonce faced severe criticism when her L’Oreal ads featured photoshopped images of the singer, making her seem several shades lighter than her natural complexion.

Hence, it is clear that, as far as success in the US music industry is concerned, light is indeed considered ‘right’. As long as the ideals and politics governing skin colour remain active, darker-skinned artists will continue to find themselves pigeonholed on the R&B formats, without garnering mainstream appeal. That is unless they are willing to purchase lace front wigs and bleach their skin in an attempt to capture it or, more ideally, the industry finally experiences a major change for the better.

Do you think that skin colour is a major factor in the

music industry?

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  1. Pinkpop January 8, 2010

    Gosh Trent… that’s too much. I like most of your posts but this is too much.

  2. justinblades January 8, 2010

    Ok Sam, you are so far off with this one. It really doesnt matter how dark your skin is if you are talented people are going to buy your records. Your last few stories for the DC thing to this is getting tried

  3. Anne January 8, 2010

    I’m not sure if it is as much of an issue as some claim. You named 4 light-skinned singers who are having some success and 3 darker skinned ones. That’s almost 50-50. If think about who has been in the charts R&B charts lately it seems close to even. You have ladies like Melanie Fiona and Jazmine Sullivan, and on the light skinned side you have Keri Hilson and Keyshia Cole. You can almost think of a darker skinned singer for every light skinned one. And of course there is Mary J. and Whitney versus Mariah & Alicia Keys. There’s Ciara versus Beyonce and so on. And if you want to go back and look at Lauren Hill then you could also consider the Brandy & Monica days versus the late Aaliyah. So, I think the issue is exaggerated. There are a lot of light-skinned and dark-skinned female artist that have been given opportunities and several of them fail or experience some success on both sides. I think it’s more of a problem in black male artists music videos lately that always seem to feature light skinned love interest from Neo to the B-day s** video and lots of rappers announcing their red bone preference. Obviously there’s a lot of color struck black people in and out of the industry but I don’t think that it’s necessarily a big issue among female R&B singers.

  4. WTF January 8, 2010

    american market is really superficial and it has gotten worse with years..for a darkskinned woman to make it now you gotta be beyond amazing….europe has generally been more accepting of the darker skinned people hence they always have had more success there….its a fact…

    BTW rihannas wears contacts and has bleached her skin to fit in as well..i also dnt see anything exotic about her!!! rihanna = bleached skin, contacts, loads of make up and clothes to make her cute!!!

  5. Its Me Again January 8, 2010

    The light skin vs dark skin debate has been done already… so many times. Excuse me while I sit this one out.

  6. Jasmine January 8, 2010

    In Mo’Nique voice “Yesssssssssss”

    I really applaud you for “going there” ….many want to brush it under the carpet but it is clearly an issue and I tip my hat to ya for not being afraid to address it.

    People, think about it, it is no coincidence that many of the females getting success these days and for many years now are lighter skinned chicks. As the industry has become more looks-obsessed (image over talent), the ideals that even we black people hold up for ourselves e.g. ‘the brighter, the righter’ have taken centre stage and become even more subscribed to.

    So I agree with much, if not all, of what Trent said. I will say though, that I think it’s part of a bigger problem….sitting right next to this are issues of ageism (Whitney, Janet, Madonna and now Mariah etc never getting no damn radio play), sexism, corporate monopoly (select companies owning and operating what we here on the radio etc). It’s all a shame and I really and truley hope that the industry has a revolution of sorts, because there is a lot of talent out there being ignored because they don’t “fit the mould” of what will sell and what won’t. The funny thing is that as much as it is a ‘black’ thing, it’s also a universal problem…look at folk like GaGa…..she was a struggling artist with all her Italian features intact for the longest….when nothing came of that, on came the blonde wig and more ‘digestable’ image and bam…big star. I just wish the industry could move beyond all that superficial crap. 🙁

  7. WTF – (THE ORIGINAL) January 8, 2010

    Would Beyonce have reached the same level of success if she was Dark? NO (hell she wudn’t have even made it SOLO)
    Would Mariah have reached the same level of success if she was Dark? NO
    Would Kelly Rowland been more successful if she was Lighter? YES

    That is the reality of the situation. You need to be BEYOND great being Darker and you still won’t make it that successful.

  8. Anon January 8, 2010

    I don’t think it has too much do with skin color per say , but more on culture identification. I mean think about, does anyone remember when Alicia Keys first came out? She was pretty militant and had a black power image going for but after she put that underneath her sleeve and started presenting herself in a softer light she became more successful with the mainstream public.
    Another good example could also be Beyonce’s Dejavu video, now a lot of black people would say this is one of the divas best clips, but she was criticized but a lot of her mainstream audience, mainly because of her choreography which was inspired mostly by her Creole roots.

  9. Nixon January 8, 2010

    what relevancy does this article have?

    Really though,you guys are pushing it too far.

    A lame lame read I must say since obviously color aint that goddamn important.

    Everyone on here is saying if they’re lighter they’ll be successful.

    That’s so stupid and almost offensive.

    Basically saying go white or go home and it should not be that way.

    Both colors of the spectrum have been embraced you guys just love to dwell on negativity that you guys dont see the good in whatever the hell it is you always bring up.

  10. Madame Zenobia’s Hot Hoecakes January 8, 2010

    ^^^My tiff with the ‘Deja Vu’ video is that it made not a lick of sense; neverminding her definition of ‘deju vu’ was more like obsession and NOT what deja vu really is. But this is neither here nor there…

    If you have greatness YOU WILL BE GREAT.

    Is skin color a factor in the industry? SURE. It’s a part of the package, too. That along with hairstyle, texture, voice, height, weight, political leanings (or not). I just don’t think any A&R are blatant in saying so, but ultimately (if not subliminally) it plays a small part in the packaging…

    Are there any real answers to this?

  11. CoCo January 8, 2010

    @Anne, I see where you’re coming from but where is Ciara dark-skinned?? lol

    The color this is an issue, but that’s with black fans, IMO.

  12. Lady J January 8, 2010

    I wouldn’t consider Diana Ross light. She and whitney are around the same color. She’s on the brown end of the spectrum. Keri hilson is on the lighter end of brown to me. When I think light I think Leona, Beyonce, Ri, Keyshia, Mariah, Tamia etc.

    I do think it helps to some degree. In the 90’s and back we had great artists with a wide range of skin tones. You had women like Donna Summer and Chaka Kahn considered s** symbols by a multitude of people. in the late 90’s- to now we have seen a prominence in LSLH (Light Skin Long Hair). At the end of good ass marketing and production team is what is going to make or break someone being light or racially ambiguous doesn’t hurt either.

    In the words of Paul Mooney some people feel ” If you light you alright, if you black get back!”

    Colorism is prevalent in the black communities around the world. Some of the worst comments come from black people. The stories I’ve heard from friends in the industry concerning skin color are most certainly heart breaking.

    Don’t think black folks aren’t the only ones having this conversation. Hispanic, Asian, Indian etc communities are dealing with this very thing as well.

  13. Madame Zenobia’s Hot Hoecakes January 8, 2010

    I feel like I shouldn’t have come in on this…

    *peeks into box of worms*

    Honestly, if you have the talent, if you have the “IT” factor, that un-nameable thing that IS *star power* then you will be a star and you will be great!


    Oh wait, those are dudes….


    If you have greatness YOU WILL BE GREAT, in spite of the superficial traits…

  14. Kyus January 8, 2010

    This is so true! Too many black people nowadays are obsessed with how light their skin is and anyone ‘too dark’ they laugh at as being blik! This ‘closer to white’ mentality is why the black race has suffered as white people have ripped of our styles, our music, our way of speaking. White people take the bits they want from black people and leave the rest (eg the discrimination etc) and Black people just let them do it! Wiggers are accepted, but as soon as it suits them, the white people swan off and leave the Black people to fend for themselves.

    This is why I worry for Alexandra when she trys to break America. Recent photos of her in bikinis show how dark she really is, and she hasn’t got the narrow nose or small lips like White people/Beysus, and so I fear that she will struggle to be a success

  15. Ivy1908 January 8, 2010

    Lauryn Hill is such a beauty. She is indeed, beautiful, and that chocolate skin is amazing. The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice!

  16. CoCo January 8, 2010

    @IVY1908 I concur. Lauryn is GORGEOUS! Who’s seeing her? lol

  17. CoCo January 8, 2010

    But anyway, Black people always want to throw shade under the rug, but it is a very relevant issue. I don’t know how many times it was brought up in my African American Studies class. We talked about how it helped in Obama’s case. No Wesley Snipes looking dude is going to win. If it matters in the White House, it matters in music. It’s unfortunate.

  18. Chad January 8, 2010

    Ehh whatever. If light-skinned translated to success, tell me why Mya, Kat DeLuna, Faith Evans, Christina Milian, Ashanti, Tamia, Chante Moore, Goapele, Amel Larrieux, etc would be soooooo successful based on their skin color as you claim. I think not.

    As its been said before, the truth is that for every single successful light skinned person you can name, there is a dark skinned equivalent and vice versa. There are successful people of all different shades. Let’s move on.

  19. Chad January 8, 2010

    First off mariah pased as white for many years until she tried 2 act black and 2 be honest the more ‘black’ she has gotten the worse her career has done. I dont believe alicia got 2 where she is because of colour. She is not light she is bi racial. The reason kelly isnt as big as beyonce is is bcuz her talent dont surpas beys. If she had a whitney voice i do believe she would be more successful. I truly believe its g2 do with talent and if people want u or not. I men luk at toni braxton. She has gotten lighter over the years and les popular

  20. GeorgeArnett January 8, 2010

    Diana is far from light. It was the appeal of her voice that made her the front woman for the Supremes. As for Kelly, she is less talented and appealing than Beyonce. I know that you are a fan but it’s true. This debate is old and tired

  21. Madame Zenobia’s Hot Hoecakes January 8, 2010


    But moreover, with all those examples you listed I have to re-emphasize what I said before…THE “IT” FACTOR.

    Not everyone can be on Michael Jackson/Madonna/Elvis/Beatles/Whitney-status. Not everyone can be on that mainstream level…if everyone who met the criteria of LSLH was on that level of celebrity of ‘speshulness’, then NO ONE would be.

    There’s only room for a select few at the top….then there’s all those levels of hierchary below where artists like Tamia and Faith and Mya (and they’re not even mainstream-crossover artists really, but have been proficient and successful enough in their genre throughout the years), those other levels are where these other artists fall. And that’s okay!

    If everyone’s “great” then no one is…so only a few can be selected/chosen/accepted/appointed/etc.

  22. Imyourstar702 January 8, 2010

    Hmmm probably …..if Lady Gaga was Lauryn Hill’s complexion nobody would take any notice of her..

  23. Madame Zenobia’s Hot Hoecakes January 8, 2010


    It was the appeal of Diana’s voice? Hmm. I thought of the three Cindy had the better voice…or was it Florence? I thought Diana’s appeal was her ‘look’ and her ‘it’ factor, not her voice per se. Or maybe I watched ‘Dreamgirls’ too many times :/

  24. Demarcus January 8, 2010

    What a great point! I usaully don’t comment on post but once I thought about your comment I had to reply. It’s so true if lady Gaga had Lauryn Hill’s complexion she would not be successful. That’s really sad but true.

  25. Erica January 8, 2010 with you color does play alot…and WHAT ELSE I don’t understand is how does Beyonce get to be a spokesperson for L’oreal and that’s not even her hair?!?! Or even Solange for that matter….but whatever…

    Skin color has alot to do with things..but whatever is meant to be will be–You can be a platinum selling artist and still don’t feel like you’ve “made it”–(Jay z Beyonce, and all the rest of the artist that won’t go sit down somewhere), or you could just sell records and live comfortable and feel like you “made it”..I feel it all depends on the person, and how far they are willing to go to “MAKE IT”.

  26. musicritic January 8, 2010

    i agree skin color plays a big role, but so does music n the “it” factor. however i think things can be changed…but to change them u r gonna need one hell of an artist to render some ppl color blind. it can be done tho.

  27. Cume January 8, 2010

    @chad,dnt even tlk bout kelly n d whitney voice cs Jennifer Hudson has dt voice n even stole beys shine in D.girls,so y isnt she everywhere lately. Well my view of this is dat its 55% true,cs micheal jackson wldnt av cut across d world dt mch if he didnt change his colour(dts y I respect his every decision.R.I.P micheal).see elvis,abba,d beatles all d extra greats were light I said its 55% true since sm black skinned ppl mk it too n 4yall 2knw,Kelly will,even if nt as big as micheal(no1 wil unless dey mk same sacrifice as micheal,R.I.P king of pop).

  28. sugar January 8, 2010

    I love That Grape Juice!

  29. Cume January 8, 2010

    @chad,dnt even tlk bout kelly n d whitney voice cs Jennifer Hudson has dt voice n even stole beys shine in D.girls,so y isnt she everywhere lately. Well my view of this is dat its 55% true,Norah Jones,taylor swift wldnt av sold mch records,evn higher dn bey,micheal jackson wldnt av cut across d world dt mch if he didnt change his colour(dts y I respect his every decision.R.I.P micheal).see elvis,abba,d beatles all d extra greats were light I said its 55% true since sm black skinned ppl mk it too n 4yall 2knw,Kelly will,even if nt as big as micheal(no1 wil unless dey mk same sacrifice as micheal,R.I.P king of pop).

  30. not trying to be mean but… January 8, 2010

    As a Beyonce fan, as much as this hurts I have to say this. Bee was given a spectacular singing voice and a great dancing ability. However….if you take away her writers and choreographers you would have ……a Mariah Carey who can dance. A singer with average looks and a spectacular singing voice. This is a business! Artists are puppets (no shade just truth). The only difference is that Beyonce has all the right people pulling the right strings, an artists dream and there’s NOTHING wrong with that. Her ‘stans’ don’t want to admit it, but as a FAN, I know and love her and dont care what no one says if kelly rowlands team were the same as Beyonces, she would be more popular in the U.S. and around the world period. We all KNOW that it’s the truth, oh well, life is life Kelly will do what she has to do to get where she wanna go. So get over it.

  31. not trying to be mean but… January 8, 2010

    p.s. skin color plays a role but so does the attitude of the particular country. In the U.S. urban artists fans tend to ‘not’ like their favorite singers ‘competition’. Not because they aren’t talented but because they are competition for their favorite so they hate that particular person on purpose. how lame, but true and we know that because look at some of the blog posts in the american blogs. They ALL turn into sling fests who can throw the most mud at Rihanna or Christina or Beyonce and if Beyonce is brought up so is Kelly and so on and so on.

  32. Boricua January 8, 2010

    I actually have to commend Trent for having the gumption to broach this topic. Yes it has been touched on before – but it is sadly still relevant in this industry and the wider world we live in.
    It all comes down to money and the means of production. If you are pleasing to those who own the means of production, you will get on in this life.

    Lauryn Hill was such an anomaly since she never compromised her artistry or her look to conform to the lighter is better rule like so many had before and therefore a danger to the status quo.

    Would Eminem be as hugely successful if he were black?
    And don’t even think about mentioning 50 cent… all he does is perpetuate the hyper masculine black male aesthetic which so many are titillated by and seek to glorify and vilify in equal measure..

  33. Lovher January 8, 2010

    basically what your saying is that you don’t respect the dark skinned artist who are out because they sign and promote a ton of them but WE(COLLECTIVELY) aren’t buying them. Ashanti isn’t light, india isn’t, Jasmine isn;t, jennifer isn’t,…i mean we could go on and on….how about you sign talent and not a color and we buy talent and not a color and it won’t be such a revolving door of an industry.

  34. Pucci January 8, 2010

    i like how everybody is giving their HONEST opinion & not being hateful & nasty about it. bringing up good points… what i have to say is, the problem starts not in the music industry but with the consumers who buy the music, IMO. I’m a darker skinned black person & i can remember being looked @ funny, teased & picked over in favor of a lighter skinned black person in school. I’ve seen this played out in my own family as the men in my family chose lighter skinned females over darker skinned ones.

    Also: Someone brought up an interesting poing about the black men in the industry. the rappers having lighter skinned females in their vids & rapping about their red bone fetish. Ne-yo saying that he even favors LIGHTER SKINNED black women over DARKER SKINNED ones. Polow da Don saying he favors WHITE women over BLACK women. And if you noticed the black women in the industry he has worked with are light skinned ones (Keyshia Cole, Keri Hilson, Ciara, Monica)… never a dark skinned celebrity & for all these light skinned women i named I can definitley name 4 dark skinned ones.

    I don’t really have much to say… just my own opinons. I hope my opinion/comment can be respected & taken into consideration.

  35. JoshZilla January 8, 2010

    you are diggin deep with that one. It has nothing to do with their skin tone, it comes down to talent and the ability to connect with an audience. the end. it’s a wrap. adios!

  36. Diane January 8, 2010

    Mariah ain’t black.

  37. 12345 January 8, 2010

    Nina Simone

  38. JAMIE January 8, 2010

    Good debate, for anyone who says skin color debate is an irrelevant issue…get out and live a little more, trust me, it’s an important issue that still needs discussion. Also, for ppl bringing up artist from past the 2000s, I think this article is address the more current state of the industry, not Chaka Khan and the like from the 70s and 80s. Anyways, what I’m really hoping that someone addresses in further detail is hip hop’s obsession with light skinned, long hair, thick redbones. Even as a black woman that is probably considered yellow bone, I get annoyed like “dayum, where the dark skinned sistas at?” Its one thing to have a preference for a certain race, height, weight, etc., but these dudes almost entirely exclude darker skinned black women in favor of ‘redbones’, latinas, or ‘exotic’ looking women. SMDH, i guess I don’t care too much since I don’t really like/listen to mainstream rap, but still there are a lot of you impressionable kids watching shows like 106 & park. Anyways, i’m off topic. nowadays there are some successful dark skinned women, but that number is doubled women you consider the amount of lighter skinned women. Color does matter, it’s not absolute, but it does play a role.

  39. Britney January 8, 2010

    This is so so so so TRUE! Come on guys think about the videos in the 90’s u could be black pink, orange, or purple but if u could sing u were in the game. Not today. You have to be light skinned with long hair to sale a record. In what day and time would record labels even consider putting Cassie in a recording studio. Fantasia, Jasmine Sullivan, India Arie, and a bunch of others have undeniable voices they should be the ones dominating the charts. I guess if the dye there skin, get naked in there videos, and shake it like a salt shaker they would be.

  40. Its Me Again January 8, 2010

    I know i said I would give this debate a pass but…

    @ Imyourstar702 who said “Hmmm probably …..if Lady Gaga was Lauryn Hill’s complexion nobody would take any notice of her..”

    Do you know who Grace Jones is? Look her up. Both Lady Gaga and Rihanna borrow heavily from her influence, and she’s about a beautifully dark as they come.

  41. Jelena January 8, 2010


  42. anonymouss January 8, 2010

    YES. i completely agree. black women have to be light skinned or completely drop dead gorgeous (Lauryn Hill) in order to get success on American pop radios. White women can look ugly as hell and cant sing even a note yet they get on the radio as long as they are thin & blonde haired (Ke$ha). its hard to believe after all these years, but the american radio industry is just racist.

  43. DJ January 8, 2010

    Truth be told if Lady Gaga was black she would be not be as popular. If she was black making the same kind of music we would brush it off as weird and it would not be played for mainstream audiences. You didn’t mention Alicia Keys, I’m sure if Alicia Keys was darker she would not be as popular either and it’s not just the US it’s the same way everywhere. In the UK its still dominated by white artists and Kelly Rowland is not as popular in the UK as people are making her out to be. One hit song does not equal popularity. Anyway, this debate has been going on forever and it’s not going to change!!!

  44. Boricua January 8, 2010

    Y’all keep on mentioning artists old and new who are dark skinned and have had some degree of success and visibility within the industry and popular culture but nothing like the magnitude of their lighter skinned counter parts who get the big buck endorsement deals and such…Look at the numbers people.

  45. Lovher January 8, 2010

    let me get this off my chest. I don’t care if you light dark red yellow. if you ugly than you ugly and it is a business were looks matter lets be honest on this fact some of the chicks signed that are darker for ex aren’t exacly looking like Gabriel Union or NIa Long or Megan Good. I mean hate to go there but look at the dark skin chicks in the game too. I mean t=in theory they are cute but in position they aren’t glamours looking either.

  46. Cume January 8, 2010

    Any1 who tinks dis post is silly is either light skind n naive or wnts 2b cs evn sm light skind ppl admit dis,so wake up,its a fact,jst face it n work around it,cs it everywhere one way or anoda.

  47. Rihanna Flop January 8, 2010

    this is a dumb post unnecessary too
    light skin dark skin blue orange green who cares?

  48. ACE January 8, 2010

    This is true. In so many words and phrases its true. Some people here have been blinded so they don’t see it but its true. Ive seen it with my own eyes; the US Music Market prefers the lighter toned singer. Beauty beats talent in the US hands down. No one is going to tell me Ciara went into someones audition sang and was signed. You don’t necessarily have to be ‘LIGHT SKINNED’ just light enough for them to photo shop. MJB, love her, but as the years have progressed shes gotten lighter and lighter. Whitney was once thought to be a lighter skinned woman because of all the foundation and rouge they put on her face you could barely tell she was a sister under all of it. Lite sells. Sorry it does. If Keysha Cole was dark-skinned with that gap, and them breast NOBODY in mainstream America would pay her attention SEE LEDISI. Alicia Keys and India Arie went head to head in America to prove the point. Both released there debut albums the same day, one playing a piano the other a guitar styles very different yet similar in their writing their own songs and the ‘neo soul’ vibe. Both had hit songs, arguably Arie had the better debut, yet keys got the Grammy. I’m not hating cuz I’m an Alicia Keys fan all day buy all her music but its obvious that her being a fare skinned girl has helped not hurt her career. When it comes to Beyonce I dont even hate because her parents knew what they had and what they were doing when it all comes down to her being who she is, which is a product to be sold and marketed in every way possible. Kelly is and was always the vocal base of DC, just listen to their harmonies. Beyonce learned/stole a lot of styling from Kelly and because of the tone of her skin she wasnt allowed the same joys and success as her sister, which is sad. People used to tell me all the time, because I am a die hard Kelly fan, she’ll never make it because she dark. She doesnt have the mainstream look. Lauryn Hill was fortunate because she came along at the right time and had a company that believed in her beyond her skin tone. Other girls aren’t so fortunate. Rihanna is another girl I love but as time has progressed as well as her career the lighter she has become. When she debuted Rihanna was a bronze girl with a reggae vibe doin her thing. GGGB She was almost white in the video’s, album cover BlknWht so her tone wouldnt be an issue. When it comes to blk men its not as harsh but I notice how they’ll lighten a guy up for mass appeal too but not as often. Just flip through ur iTunes or even your cd collection and take note to the mass appeal African American ‘singers’ of today and you’ll notice a trend

  49. rightround(U.S.A pride!) January 8, 2010

    ^^ Ciara did audition for L.A. Reid and got signed. But obviously it was mostly due to her “look”, Reid even admitted to that.

    This topic is very broad and can be discussed to death, but I really don’t think it has everything to do with color. It’s about having the “it” factor and it just so happens that for Black females in the industry, their “it” factor has to be a lighter complexion.
    Caucasian female singers go through a similar thing but instead of lighter skin, they have to have BLONDE hair, slim frame, and a perfect tan (Britney, Gaga, Christina, etc). Do you really think Brit would have been SO big at one point in her career if she was super curvy, brunette, and pale? Umm I think NOT! People give Kelly Clarkson so much crap for not being SUPER slim and even call her fat….

    IMO, it’s just the way the mainstream works.

  50. bobs January 8, 2010

    Oh god, here we go again with another community college journalism 101 project. Wow.

  51. Imyourstar702 January 8, 2010


    Lol.. yes i do know who Grace Jones is and its so funny that you should bring her name up because that kinda proves my point, Grace Jones is nowhere near as successful as Lady Gaga despite them being quite similar artists. So i think i’ll stick to my comment that i made earlier on , saying that if Lady was Lauryn hill’s complexion then people wouldn’t pay her any mind.

  52. chelsie January 8, 2010

    Kelly has had more than ONE hit in the UK. 5 top 10 hits off the top of my head. 2 went to #1 selling a combined 1.3m, and a few others that debuted in the top 5.. and sold well. And had a double platinum album there as well. As well as headlining several big gigs.

    I dont think she is less talented than Beyonce either. B is a better performer does more with her voice but singing wise imo they are evenly matched. Kelly can really interpret a song better imo of course.. see ‘love again’ ‘SILWMX’

  53. smh January 8, 2010

    i have seen some of the most ignorant comments on here.

    how old are some of you? 12?

    yes skin color has a lot to do with some artist’s success, but those of you who say “so and so wouldn’t be so successful if they were dark” sound so ignorant.

    if you’re talented, you’re talented. plain and simple.

    we have dark skinned women who are successful like whitney and mary, and we have light skinned women who are successful like alicia keys and beyonce.

    why am i not surprised that beyonce haters brought bey’s name up the most. people like her for her talent, she has fans of all races who don’t give a crap about her skin color. and the same can be said for other artists.

  54. smh January 8, 2010

    and when did this turn into kelly vs beyonce? smh why haters always have to pit women against each other

  55. chelsie January 8, 2010

    No shade intended towards Beyonce.. she is very talented.. and very good at her craft. I just took issue at the ‘less talented’ and ‘one hit’. With Kelly she could have been bigger, people were willing to give her a chance in the US but her live vocals are too inconsistent. BET seemed to decrease ppls interest and then the indecisiveness finished hr off in the Ms Kelly era.

    As for this debate its true. I dunno but it seems you can’t appear too ethnic.. ie black, Latin Oriental etc

  56. chelsie January 8, 2010

    ^^Not as simple as that. The most successful are not always the most talented and a lot of the time not even talented at all.

    I do think you need someone powerful backing you tho. 🙂

  57. FUSION January 8, 2010

    if what people say is true about Mariah being light skinned being the reason for her success, then where the f*** are all her grammy’s? cos last time i checked, lauryn hill won more in one sitting than mariah has in her whole career. this subject is redundant, irrelevant and disrespectful to the likes of mariah and whitney, who have had equal levels of success to some extent. its so stupid, that i aint even gonna comment any further.

  58. Join HBQs for FREE! January 8, 2010

    “Melanie Fiona and Jazmine Sullivan, and on the light skinned side you have Keri Hilson and Keyshia Cole”

    The latter/light pair have had much greater success and promotion.

    More articles like this, please! You managed to fit Rihanna in, as usual, but you did it in a professional way. I definitely agree with the point on her. People act like a black person having eyes that aren’t brown is the second coming.

  59. Anne January 8, 2010

    I think there are strong arguments on both sides but I don’t think the Beyonce vs Kelly debate is a good light skin vs. dark skin example. There are so many other factors that come into play and effect the difference in their success. Beyonce’s stage presence is like none other and she is a more consistent vocalist. I agree with Chelsie, I’ve seen several live performances by Kelly and she struggles at times. The bottom line is her voice is not a strong as Beyonce’s.

  60. anonymouss January 8, 2010

    and btw it doesnt matter how immensely talented beyonce is if she was dark-skinned and more ‘ugly’ (or less anglo features) she would NOT be as successful as she is on the radios or even the grammys. sorry but its true. hell even being the gorgeous light skinned woman even racist white men have crushes on, she STILL has a much harder time getting attention from radios and MTV than her whiter and less talented counterparts (ei Britney Spears and Katy Perry).

  61. anonymouss January 8, 2010

    @Join HBQs For Free

    why do u THINK the lighter skinned females got more promotion??!
    because the record company ppl KNOW that they will attract more listeners, black white asian all types. prettier people just naturally generate more attention from humans. its a scientific fact. yall needa do some serious research.

  62. Diane January 8, 2010

    Mariah isn’t light-skinned, she’s latin. She is not an African-American. She is a black Latino. Damn, how many times do this statement has to be proven. Dark-skinned latinos, i.e., Carlton from Fresh Prince, are called black. Just because Mariah’s daddy, Nunez-Carey, was dark skinned does not make him an African American. It is noted in Wikipedia that Nunez-Carey’s father was Afro-Cuban and his mother was African-American. That does not make him black, he is Latin. Mariah has an Irish mother and Black Latin father, which makes Mariah a Latino.

    I know the Latin community have their own sickness about color, (cough, cough Sammy Sosa), therefore, Mariah looked at herself as being olive complexion, which is dark in the Latin word, and since her father was dark-skinned, she had to pass for black because the white Latins would not accept her. You heard the line from Eva Longoria, she said, “she was the darkest in her family.” But, nobody mistakes her for an African-American. When a Latino is not light, bright, damn near white, they think they are dark-skinned.

    MARIAH IS NOT AN AFRICAN-AMERICAN. SHE IS A LATIN O- PERIOD. If both Nick Cannon’s parents are black, then Mariah’s children will be African-American. But if Nick is mixed with some s***, then Mariah’s child will be considered Latino.

  63. LEO January 9, 2010

    Many of the comments are quite intelligent, but some need to realize skin color and race are two different factors. I know it’s a definite bonus if you happen to be lighter, but other features and qualities are more important. If Beyonce/Alicia/Rihanna make the type of music that Chrisete Michele or India.Arie does, they too will fall by the wayside. The core of any artist’s success is their music and management.

  64. Kristiana January 9, 2010

    Ok… so if this is indeed true, how is it that Tamia, one of the most talented, but most underated artists in the industry is so completely overlooked? She’s pretty and she can sing better than most. What makes her not appeal to mainstream??

  65. Yinka January 9, 2010

    I agree with Sam on this… Racism in the industry is more pronounced in the USA than in the UK…that is just a reflection of the attitudes in each country’s society.

  66. sasha fierce January 9, 2010

    @ diane: get over urself. mariah is BLACK & WHITE; she’s said so herself. apparently she’s not too concerned about being called latino or else she would have been correcting everybody throughout her career.

  67. anonymouss January 9, 2010

    Tamia is a CANADIAN artist. hence she does not have that much promo in the Americas.
    plus her music is ‘grown folks music’ not the typical Z100 type of teeny pop that gets on the radios.

    if u look at all the tabloids they are FILLED with light-skinned, mostly white, blonde, very thin women. and these are the women who get more attention from their record labels, their labels spend more promo money on them because they know they will garner the most public interest the fastest. the only black women i see in the tabloids consistently is beyonce, rihanna, and halle berry, all successful LIGHTSKINNED women.

  68. Richard January 9, 2010

    This post is stupid mainly because even the light skinned girls are flopping right now LOL.

    Mariah was marketed basically as white by her label (forecefully) and Kelly Rowland flops b/c she got left over songs that no one wanted on her last cd.

    Being light skinned and pretty might make you more mainstream “beautiful”, but it certainly won’t guarentee you stardom.

    You mentioned darker skinned girls that have had success as well. No one cared about Whitney’s skin color when she came out.

    The music business is in the sh*tter anyway.. it’s not fair to compare when no one except Beyonce and Lady Gaga are doing well LOL

  69. MJfan January 9, 2010

    This really is a nonissue because it’s not about dark vs light. Lauryn Hill is a dark brown complexion young woman, who was rocking dreads, and the bohomian fashions, and she is naturally beautiful. And the men of all races were in love with her. Erykah Badu isn’t light, she’s carmel who rocks crazy hairstyles, and the men love her and both of these women are well-received. Although, I think that colorism plays important role in the music industry, it’s not the only factor.

    Now the whole Beyonce vs. Kelly saga. Now it’s easy to say that Beyonce is light thus get the attention and poor Kelly is dark , so she was ignored and had to go overseas to get attention. That maybe true, but it’s possible that Beyonce had better Public relations team than Kelly. People aren’t just chosen to be on magazines hot lists, many times their publicists gets them on the list. And Beyonce is always putting herself out there, constantly putting out records and doing projects, more animated in public. Whereas Kelly Rowland, she’s more reserved, quiet and for a long time didn’t push herself to the front. Sorry to say this but if Kelly was more drama and out there, she would be noticed. Alot of men find Kelly Rowland attractive, it’s just that Beyonce fans are more vocal and makes sure that when you go online, they make everythig about Beyonce, thus creating a buzz. For example, David Gest Michael Jackson bestfriend, did an interview in which he listed MJ’s favorite artists, he lists Beyonce and Kelly Rowland as one of his favorites. But then add that Kelly Rowland was his crush. Now,if David Gest would have said Beyonce was MJ crush, there would have been Black blogs going crazy and running with it. But because it was Kelly Rowland , black blogs ignored it. But, when Puffy mentioned how MJ allegedly tried to holla at Beyonce and danced with her, than people believed it. Never mind the fact that MJ said in interviews that he didn’t like to go to parties because people wanted him to dance. I’ve seen the pictures, and he’s taking pics with all of Destiny Child. And his make up artist and friend, said that she asked MJ about Beyonce and he said that she was pretty and talented but he wasn’t into the hips and thighs. Yet, somehow the whole internet is abuzz of MJ trying to like Beyonce. Although the fact of the matte rthat MJ was crushin on the skinny darkskin Kelly Rowland, yet that was ignored. So, it’s not the whole media, it’s rather the fanbases that pump up their fav celebrity over another.

  70. Jasmine January 10, 2010

    Sam I like most of your posts but this one is far off. Yes, there is a color class system among the black race but it dates back well over 100 years. Basically, there are three shades: light, brown, and dark. The main problem is the gray area of brown skin. For instance, I would say that everyone you mentioned as “dark skinned” (Whitney Houston, Lauryn Hill and Mary J. Blige) are all brown skin while someone of Ray-J and Fantasia’s complexion is dark-skin.

  71. Jerome January 10, 2010

    Another irresponsible post from this website. You’re very consistent in doing that, aren’t you?

  72. anonymo January 12, 2010

    Lauryn Hill was a success because of the music she produced and how it related to an average person’s life (message music). She’s beautiful from within and externally. She’s never had to pose half naked or in the n***, like we see with some of these ‘artists’ today, to sell her music. That makes me admire her even more.

  73. smh April 19, 2010

    Yes skin color plays a big role. I agree.

  74. wow April 19, 2010

    if chris brown were three shades darker lol yes skin tone has a lot to do with it.

  75. veebz April 20, 2010

    I personally don’t care what colour a person is I’m thinking about there talent. But a lot of people are still focussed on skin colour and “crossing over” like we are still in the 50s which is very sad. I think the way loriel lightened Beyonce was out of order she didn’t even look good like that ….. P.S I always thought Kelly Rowland was the best looking out of Destinys Child

  76. kj9999 October 18, 2011

    Technically Whitney doesn’t count 4 being dark skinned, she’s lighter then Rihanna who should really be consider to be rep the darker skinned ladies

  77. Track Bids April 9, 2013

    Aw, this was a incredibly top quality post. In theory I’d like to write like this as well – taking time and genuine work to make a good article… but what can I say… I procrastinate alot and never glimpse for getting something done.

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